Sunday, August 22, 2010

Satisfying a Craving

obviously, this is not a Mountaineers trip!
I fully embrace the new technology that has been developed to make our lives easier and keep us connected. Take Facebook, for example, where on Tuesday morning I posted that I wanted to day-hike at Mt Rainier on Wednesday and was anyone available for the day. By midday, I was invited on a 3-day backpack trip to Spider Meadows, a premier destination in WA State. The inspiration for the trip for both parties, me and Todd, was a fellow Mountaineer named Mary who had recently day-hiked to the area and had taken some fabulous photos of wildflowers, meadows and towering peaks. Since we would be going mid-week and staying three days, we were sure to have fewer people on the trail and have more opportunity for great photos.

Paintbrush and mountains

Wednesday morning, not very early, Todd picked me up and we headed to the backpacker mecca... REI for some last-minute items. Normally, I don't like to make stops before getting out of dodge, but since the trip had come together so quickly, we each lacked certain essentials (fuel and water purification). Afterward, a trip to Espresso Vivace was necessary for some personal fueling and we were off, oh so leisurely.

It was a long drive up to the trailhead and we quickly saw that we were not alone, though 22 cars at the trailhead was not much, given the popularity of the area. We arrived in the lower meadow at 6pm, a time that gave us little daylight to make camp, find somewhere to hang our food and have dinner. But the lower camps were buggy – these were not mosquitoes, but were deer flies that bite and hurt and leave a big welt that stays and itches for days (yes, I missed mosquitoes, who are annoying but whose bites disappear in one day). We moved from that area quickly and managed to find a small spot along the creek with just enough room for my single-person tent and Todd's bivy bag. 

After dinner, Todd went right to bed but I stayed up to watch the star show since we were miles from any artificial light. I have limited knowledge of the constellations and, beyond the major ones, I just marveled at the quantity, since the Milky Way appeared above. When I finally got into my tent, I rolled up one side of the fly so I could stargaze from my bed.

Monkeyflowers in Phelps Basin
In the morning, we got ready to do some exploring, first in Phelps Basin, where the inspiring photo that brought us out here was taken, then up toward Spider Gap, high above the meadows at 7,100', above the Spider Glacier. I had brought my Sony DSLR for the occasion, knowing the area would be worthy, but the camera encouraged me to go further and higher than I would have with a less complex camera. In Phelps Basin, I saw the photo Mary had taken, but moved upstream and came across a field of two shades of purple flowers that mimicked the lavender fields of Provence. Click, click, click went the camera. On our way toward Spider Gap, I had only intended to go as high as the first decent view of the valley below, but soon I found that my camera had an addiction to beautiful scenery and I was its enabler, climbing higher on a steep, rocky trail, thinking about how I might actually hurt myself going down it, but was lured higher, nonetheless, helpless to the cravings of getting the perfect shot.

I was able to reign in my camera's desires when standing at the foot of the Spider Glacier, since I possessed neither poles nor an ice ax for travelling on this type of terrain. Camera was happy where we were, with views to Red Mountain to the west, Seven-Fingered Jack and Mt Maude to the east and the entire Spider Meadow to the south. I saw a sign, "Toilet" and camera said to follow, knowing that, up here in pristine wilderness, they are not just wooden shitboxes, but royal thrones with spectacular views.

the view of Spider Meadows from Gap trail

Camera and I wandered and captured images and took all possible paths until it was time to find a place to rest and wait for Todd to descend. At the high-in-the-sky campsites I found Todd had beat me to a nap and after I caught my few winks, he lent me his poles so I could descend safely, knowing the photos would only be able to be seen if camera and I made it down without a tumble.
7:34 AM in the meadow

I'm glad I lived to see the following day. I'm also glad I'm so fond of those wooden shitboxes because I hiked down valley in the early morning to the lower camps just so I could sit in comfort and, on the way back, saw a field of magenta and pink paintbrush off the trail. Naturally, I had camera with me, its desire so strong at all times, and I crouched in the meadow for some serious MBs (that's megabites, photo talk, you know). The series began at 7:19am and continued for every minute until 7:34, sometimes multiple shots per minute. Then I got hungry and headed back to camp for breakfast, only to return later after we had packed up and were hiking out.

The second time around was only slightly different as there were still a multitude of flower and valley shots but they were interspersed with naps and book reading in the meadow.

Todd lingers in the meadow

On the hike out, the influx of new campers was steady and, close to the parking lot I was asked about gathering firewood for a campfire. I knew the answer was "No fires permitted in Wilderness areas" but I couldn't seem to say the words since every campsite had a fire ring and the family sounded so enthusiastic about sitting around a fire. Instead, I commented that we didn't make a fire and later included this blurb in my trip report to WTA:

"There are many camp sites scattered about in the meadows but, sadly, most have fire rings built by people who didn't know that fires are not permitted in wilderness areas. This is the Glacier Peak Wilderness, people, and fire danger is high and no one wants to be the idiot who sets the meadow on fire. So bring friends for conversation, a book for quiet reading or your imagination for star gazing, but don't start a fire!"

On our return to the city, we swam in a cool lake, ate a piece of good pie and then, once at home, I was set to the task of dealing with the results of the addiction. I had no fewer than 180 photos to sort through! Since I can't come close to posting them all in this blog, please go here to see all 48 that have been chosen as the best.

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